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Dana White addresses equality in sports for women, champions the UFC as ‘an even playing field’

Amanda Nunes
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC president Dana White will never live down his once famous declaration that women would never compete in his organization, but these days he’s very happy that he was so demonstrably wrong.

Over the past six years since Ronda Rousey made her debut, the UFC has seen numerous women’s fights as headliners on pay-per-view and television while also constantly expanding with four women’s divisions currently promoted in the organization.

White readily admits he was wrong when initially asked the question about women fighting in the UFC and it’s been proven to him time and time again by the performances he’s personally witnessed inside the octagon.

“Because they’re good. Because they’re really good.” White said at a Hashtag Sports sessions this week when asked about the success of women in the UFC. “One of the things you have to remember—I completely own up to saying women would never fight in the octagon—but like I told you guys earlier, you’ve got to remember at this time, I was trying to get people to accept the men fighting in the Cctagon. It wasn’t allowed on pay-per-view. It wasn’t allowed on TV.

“There’s always going to be this, it’s changing rapidly, but there’s always going to be this chauvinist side to men that men don’t want to see women getting pinned up against the cage and hit with elbows and getting cut, things like that. So I thought. It’s very popular now. The difference is, the reason that the women’s MMA has taken off and it’s so big is because these women are legit. Really good, very technical, and it’s amazing and I never saw it coming.”

In a strange way White’s defiance only emboldened fighters like Rousey to prove him wrong and she ultimately served as the catalyst for women to join the UFC roster.

Now the organization promotes women’s fights on nearly every card. Both of the UFC pay-per-views in July feature a women’s co-main event not to mention an upcoming UFC Fight Night card for ESPN headlined by a women’s fight between Germaine de Randamie and Aspen Ladd.

As adamant as he once was about women never fighting in the UFC, White is now proud that mixed martial arts seems to be the one platform in sports where equality isn’t the exception — it’s the norm.

“If you think about in all other sports what they talk about is ‘if women play golf, they hit from shorter tees’, there’s always some excuse about women playing a sport. It’s absolutely an even playing field in the UFC,” White said. “They fight the same style, they fight everything and even the pay. At the time Ronda Rousey was here, she was the highest paid fighter in the UFC.

“These women are incredible. What’s crazy too, when you think about the empowerment of women right now — for most men this is hard to wrap their head around — a woman will kick your ass these days. It’s not like it was 30 years ago. When I grew up, they played with dolls and we played sports. Not anymore.”

Even with Rousey gone now, White is happy that the UFC has continued to pay women on the same scale as the men.

For instance at UFC 232 this past December, the three highest paid fighters were Jon Jones, Alexander Gustafsson and Cris Cyborg, who all earned $500,000 in disclosed pay for their performances. UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes ended as the second highest paid fighter on the card with $350,000 earned for her win that night.

While he couldn’t speak to specifics, White acknowledged the disparity in pay for athletes in other sports such as the U.S. women’s soccer team fighting for equal pay to their male counterparts.

“It makes sense. I hear that all the time with soccer and basketball and tennis and golf,” White said. “Obviously whatever sport it is and the women are bringing in the money, yeah they should get paid.”

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